Mrs Mohamed Siraj's Memories


Singapore Memory Project
Mrs Mohamed Siraj

Born 1925

First female social worker with the Syariah Court, co-founded the Young Women’s Muslim Association (1952) and the Muslim Women’s Welfare Council (1964).

“My husband was involved in community and social work and I was in a number of committees as well, including the Singapore Children’s Society and the Family Planning Society. I realised that there were no Muslim women on the committees and I thought that if anything happened, no one would help us Muslim women. 

During that time (1950s), men could divorce their wives just by verbalising the divorce and paying them  an alimony of $30 for three months even if they had children. It was not fair, but women had no rights and could not protect themselves. I discussed with my friends that we must do something and we started the [Young Women’s Muslim Association] by word of mouth. Women then were afraid of their husbands, and some were told by their husbands that if they joined us, they would divorce them. We told them that if they were afraid, then they wouldn’t be able to do many things. Some of the women were not scared and said that even if they were thrown out of their homes, they would still fight. We met the legislators and we brought forward issues like the divorce and polygamy laws. Eventually they brought in better laws. We also told them that Muslims needed a place where women could go and bring up their issues and achieve more rights, and that ended up being the Syariah Court.

I later worked in the Syariah Court as a counsellor, and it was a horrible experience because there were many women who came to the court because of problems with their husbands. Mostly these were money issues – their husbands would marry other women and leave them alone without financial support. 

I also felt that since I was involved in all this work, I should know more about the law. If we didn’t know the law, how would we be able to help people? But it was difficult, studying at a late age especially since I was also working. I started attending classes with Encik Ahmad Ibrahim (Singapore’s first local Attorney General) and he taught me a great deal. 

In 1964, we started the Muslim Women’s Welfare Council. Even after the divorce and polygamy laws were changed, there were still problems as many men still did what they liked. Most women were not educated and their parents and husbands would keep them at home. With the Council, we did charity and welfare work, and we tried to help the women by giving them legal and medical advice.

The thing that kept me going was the desire to help those unfortunate people. There were so many unfortunate women and children, and also unfortunate men as well. I felt that I had to help in whatever way I could.”